Congregants at Temple Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens sacrificed their freedom of religion last Friday because of a Florida neighbor’s bid to escape justice – one of two antisemitic episodes fueled by Republicans last week.
For the first time that I can recall, former President Trump managed to imperil, almost directly, a large bloc of American Jews in far northern Palm Beach County. The synagogue was readying to host a “beach shabbat” when Donald Trump’s henchmen lashed out at U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart for signing the Department of Justice’s search warrant of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, 16 miles south of the judge’s synagogue.
Beth David had planned for that Friday evening (Aug. 19) one of its periodic services on a nearby beach before news broke that the FBI hauled off classified documents – reported by The New York Times to number possibly 700 pages’ worth – on the preceding Monday (Aug. 15) from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
“That is a k…And a pedophile…He should be tried for treason and executed,” one online user wrote of the judge, according to the Religion News Service.
New York Mets baseball legend Lenny Dykstra, who has explored conversion to Judaism, assessed on Twitter the judge and Beth David’s compliance to Jewish values: “I hope you all weren’t expecting that the synagogue where go ahead and raid Trump Judge #BruceReinhart is on the board of trustees is one where the congregation keeps kosher, observes the sabbath, etc. You can bet they’re into ‘social justice’ of course!”
These and many similar social media messages led the synagogue, with 250 member-families, to cancel Friday’s Shabbat service, which its website describes as “the most spiritual Shabbat experience we’ve ever had.”
Perhaps Trump did not intentionally seek to cause discomfort for a sizeable Conservative synagogue or a judge because he is Jewish, but he did not care.
After all, whenever Trump is victimized by liberal East Coast intellectual elites, his minions flood the media with invective against his tormentors no matter where it leads. Some of them, if a handful, will harass any racial, religious group or whatever. If it so happens that Jews are responsible, leave it to some of Trump’s friends to remind America that their so-called Jewish friends killed Jesus and now murder Christian children.
Whether Trump has an antisemitic side is hard to assess, but he is opportunistic enough to exploit prejudice against Jews in a state where he won 41 percent of the Jewish vote during his 2020 re-election campaign, which is quite the political accomplishment. The more than half-million Jews in Florida – most of whom are clustered in the 70-mile stretch that comprises Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties – usually vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. Nationwide, Democrats generally win two-thirds to three-quarters of the Jewish vote.
However, many Florida Jews were likely grateful for Trump’s strong support of Israel and disgust with a handful of Israel-bashing Democrats in Congress, among other related matters.
Republicans last week also contributed to the jeopardy of American Jews by bringing together Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Doug Mastriano in spite of the latter’s fishing for antisemitic votes in his campaign for governor of Pennsylvania.
Mastriano spent $5,000 last April using Gab, a favorite social media platform for antisemites, to plug his campaign. A Gab user is accused of posting plans on the site that resemble what he is charged with actually doing four years ago: slaughtering 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Mastriano, a state senator from Franklin County in central Pennsylvania, is challenging Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro for governor, a Jewish resident of Abington Township outside Philadelphia.
Gab is operated by Andrew Torba, a Christian nationalist who routinely badmouths other religions.
Mastriano has compared abortion to the Holocaust and gun-safety measures to Nazi Germany, and labeled as “a myth” the separation of church and state, according to the Inquirer.
DeSantis, who is expected to run for president in 2024, drew fire from Pittsburgh leaders for appearing with Mastriano at a rally there five miles from the Tree of Life shul in the heavily Jewish Squirrel Hill section. DeSantis’s history as governor involves lax steps to control Covid-19, censoring classroom discussions and blocking dissent from a Tampa prosecutor and professors at the state-run University of Florida in Gainesville.
Mastriano has ominously pledged to make my state “look like the Florida of the north.” Doubtful that he was talking about bringing shiny ocean beaches and warmer winter temps to Pennsylvania.
Retired Pittsburgh Rabbi Jamie Gibson said, “As long as his campaign is framed in the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, Muslims and Jews and liberal Christians are all under threat.”
The Gab flap escalated on Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle reported that Jew-haters threatened state Rep. Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh on Gab – where else? – for daring to condemn the website’s “white nationalist vision.” “It’s coming k…Hold on to your yamulke,” a Gab user posted.
Frankel, a Jewish Democrat whose district covers Squirrel Hill, told a Chronicle reporter that he was taking steps to boost security for his staff and himself.
Mastriano did close his Gab account last month after Frankel assailed him for his involvement with Gab. The Republican said at the time, “I reject antisemitism in any form.”
While he rejects antisemitism now, Mastriano did not reject antisemitism when he asked Gab’s audience to vote for him.